ST. ANNE'S (2012)
THE PURE DROP
POEM FOR A CHRISTENING
NOTHING IS LOST
A WAX CLOCK
AN OLD SUN
A FAR COUNTRY
The procession moves,
women watching from the front yard.
A low hum, a crunch of gravel
and they’re gone.
We won’t see them turn and murmur
those strange endearments to the newly-dead
but we know the chair will be left
exactly as it was – and the stool,
worn by thirty years of boot-heels.
Afterwards I wipe that sticky
grey glaur peculiar to wet graveyards
and look around at strangers.
He stood tall in company, like a lighthouse.
This I can imagine, knowing him little
but for a common affliction,
but I picture him falling like a tree
onto the silent grass
and pigeons, startled, fleeing the ivy.
His age, or an approximation, is whispered
by men who went to school with him.
They seem to have forgotten themselves,
their black-suited backs are straight as tombstones.
Beyond, hawthorn is about to seed,
it stretches in lines of unwashed white
as I manoeuvre the car for home
with a sense of turning my back
on the decencies of death – the wakehouse,
good china, sandwiches, relatives.
The square is quiet where I break
my journey and eat without company;
I look out at neatness, unseasonal irises.
I separate currencies discreetly
and reflect on the lack of tears,
the struggle for rectitude. We always want
what we can’t have. And now propriety
is alien to me: prized, within reach,
elusive as a dawn I’m doomed to sleep through.
I finish up. A tip, not a prayer,
for his memory. I settle for small change.
There is a price to be paid for that kind
of regard, for being a giant among men.
Past midday. Morning, a fever, abates,
and its rhythm fades, that unworldly beat
of being awake yet struggling to waken.
My thoughts are cool; they drip like a fountain
on the inside of my skull.
May is greening the cut-back hedges,
is moving fingers of light on the wall of the upper room,
dancing in dust round the table
that once held a porcelain bowl and a chipped ewer.
Amazed at what I can remember, that I can place
furniture where it must have been,
that a previous generation’s logic
has been unlocked in me, who barely knows
how to align two chairs,
I think of Sabine Sicaud, year old
in the first year of the war, dead at fifteen,
lively and knowing; who spoke to her fever
as Francis spoke to wolves – brothers, sisters
who besiege, who invade. She died
the year my mother was born,
a golden June, a promise.
Two bodies in those lengthening days, counting.
Three hearts beating, two, one. Still.
The pencil, pared to a spear-point,
snaps at the application of a thought.
Morning is over, all that remains of its promise
is a varnished press, a wall of faces
looking out from various faded summers:
my grandfather, kindly, sitting by the flowerbeds
we avoided like fire - my aunt's scalding voice
warning against football; children by a rockery,
a ghost hovering above the lens...
long days, the lawn smothered by daisies,
strawberry nets unfurled, tented on twigs.
Outside now, nature - old men on seats
mystified by what they've missed,
garden becoming field; our paths
no longer what they were. And the old hunger
still, something of the boy burning, a kick
of desire that can never be released,
a sadness at the height of summer.
Maybe, above all, we mourn the death
of tidiness, that moment, fixed in the mind,
when everything was relative, when the stars
were less even than their names,
and knowledge was a sea, not deep,
too far away to hem us in. And why
I have been running in my head
after an afternoon I never saw.
It has been a diving into dark
in hope of next day's dawn, a long forgetting
of things that can never be touched,
objects that become remote as mountains.
It is an ancient snare, that wish to be like Christ
ascending into his memories; to move and breathe
in a stain-glass world, lucent, radiant. I trace
the cold rim of a bell, I run my hand
along a picture-frame, and find myself
suddenly blessed by its dust.
the walkway disappears.
The courtyard drips; a rain
from forty years ago
still shocks; the same sky lours.
Is there nothing new,
nothing to lift the mind
from grey flood and concrete?
The body needs must bend,
the gambler has to fold;
fifty years and fate
will bow the strongest neck.
And I have come back
in the mind’s eye at least
to what I know of old –
a glimmer in the rust;
voices of dead friends,
their stories never told,
who walked out into
an evening without end
– how young they were, how few
their likes today; a bar
of music, passing, gone;
Syd Barrett or John Clare
on their long walk home,
one to his mother’s garden,
the other an asylum.
And what remained undimmed
toward the end, what word
or snatch of song redeemed
the solitary years?
It seems however far
we look, however deep
inside or out, a wind
no stronger than a whisper
scatters what little truths
we’ve fastened on, and hope
takes refuge in the past.
But what to do when past
itself’s in disarray,
when the long falling out
accelerates, the brain
besieged from within
and life’s an endless loan
we borrow from ourselves
to loan ourselves again?
Here the Atlantic drips
from broken spouts, begins
its long journey back,
and coltsfoot among cracks
disperses in the gloom
ten thousand years of growth.
All sound, all mute. Perhaps
the energy of love
still radiates somewhere
not in waves, but drops:
youngsters on a path,
wildflowers by a grave,
birdsong rinsing air,
and our words too, an echo
of a time before words
when a silent hunger
was the only truth to follow.
In the yard, the roses have been beaten.
Day begins with a din, not of voices,
but crows and rain. Is this what four o’ clock’s
grey streak promised; for this, that vain
attempt to rest? It was a strange, languorous
unease, that hour when a horizon of doubt
clarified, and an old, ugly scar appeared
like a row of slum roofs I’d thought
had crumbled to make way for light and air.
But now the torrent promises exhaustion
and calm; all things blow themselves out
and into their opposite. The crow shakes a droplet
from its wing, and forages; the stem straightens.
Everything is one, in spite of its pulling apart.
Snowdrops for spring, fireworks for Halloween,
those gifts you’ve taken to your mother’s grave,
thirsting for rest, dreaming of an ocean
upon whose sands you lay an unquiet love.
Your house is built on bone, your life on smoke
and no degree of ritual can cleanse
kitchen or staircase from its rising dark
nor light a waking hour bereft of sense.
And so you take your leave – how like a shade
your body is, hugging the air it moves,
your mind crushed by its imagined weight;
limbs like sticks in the October night,
you rush to break a promise never made,
the way a fire consumes the thing it loves
I have seen more than my fill of daybreak,
the future whitening the sky like a line of chalk
or trying to keep from drowning in a deluge.
Time was I welcomed this struggling hour as a refuge
but an evening’s exhaustion is too high a price.
My sleeping nerves are strung to the quickening pace
of birdcall, and now I waken in dark, anticipate
what has already happened, an old alarm repeated.
Sailing like Baudelaire to a long island of repose
in the early hours, I snap awake to a jolt of perfume
or betrayal, or the sound of a name, the cause
of cold half-lit wanderings, becoming too many to reckon.
How easily we inhabit a world where nothing is as it seems!
Here the room ticks, curtains pale. Memory beckons.
After these years, the streets
are still a maze, veins and arteries
in a stranger whose face differs
in each onlooker’s eye;
where sounds are clarified
only as they die; a child
practising piano, the air tensing
with her nervous fingers;
food being scraped from plates,
a slow settling down
to what’s left of evening.
Now, the hour for dreaming
of life elsewhere, as if all
went on unchanged there; your parents’
grave still rich with peat, weed-free,
dogs sniffing in untouched lanes,
their owners waiting, patient, unaged.
That part of the mind kept fresh
by never being used screens
the tableaux-vivants of a time
that never was, beautiful
like a ritual no one understands.
Are the voices still as musical,
is your stomach giddy with the weightlessness
of being hoisted on a grown-up’s shoulder;
is this what life has been, a chase
for the purity of being thrown and caught?
And what now, as you sit,
your back to the street, and watch
its shadows playing on your lamplit wall,
a dying-ember orange. What age
are we; how near to becoming our fathers?
Here, where you call home, some streets
are strangers, the way a loss
of teeth can make a face
almost unrecognisable; the sun
no longer lingers, and you’d be
impatient to be gone. And perhaps
you could be reconciled,
if you came back, with what you have;
being at last at odds
where you grew up, you could begin to speak
the language of settling, not exile.
The city could close around you like a skin
as darkness does, but with its own
odd comfort, its magnesium glow.
Your hands have been too long
lamplit, casting dead shadows.
Walking Church Hill, that least-changed road,
the air still morning-thin, those hills revealing
nothing of their foreign trees, I pass the school.
Then hits the scale of what has passed,
the rooms contracted like truth in age,
paint and more paint, layers of a fresh start:
it seems as though we have pushed
the years away, like unwanted food,
and now there is a hunger of regret;
the merest pang, a swallowing of nothing.
Reminders are embedded in the everyday,
initials carved on a wall, their outline traced
in a recurring moss; sheds, alleys, back gardens
green with the melancholy of old summers;
a small street declining toward a distant sea.
And we approach the far end of a span –
the opening mind, a palate testing everything,
flooded with the taste of things to come;
and then, as with all surfeit, a closing down,
gradual, only noticed when irrevocable.
There should be more than this. Too many gaps,
too much confusion between what’s forgotten
and what never was. As the inner eye
fades, something in the gut reacts
to a stimulus the mind has failed to register;
an infant’s warmth at being held, or that falling-
flash that bolts you upright in dead sleep;
or, by this patch of nettles, imagination hauling itself
to picture the house that stood, to name the family,
or search for a voice heard from an open window
an afternoon that happened somewhere else,
your mind, your ears, young enough to hold
the seed of every sound in what you heard,
part of you still longing to be lost in the purity
of its indistinctness, to throw yourself into its ringing
until you forget the strain of too much effort
and what you long for falls like leaves from a dead tree.
Time to move on and leave the gap to the lushness
of its weeds, surrender its walls to the air that claims
it back, flies hovering in sun where the chimney stood.
And now, in what I knew as open country,
I can trace the town’s contours as if on a postcard.
Distant, it nestles as all towns must, in the myth
of its being complete: not now, but once - that day
we drew the landscape of unfinished lives.
THE PURE DROP
All summer the stream
ran foul; a weakness
corrupting the bedrock, hidden
like an old sin
or a dream of dogs,
a cave-in compounded
by troubling earthworks
so far distant the mind
couldn’t connect cause
and effect. No ritual cleansed,
no drain or deepening
or quickening run
gave us a glimpse of the bed,
no glistening brightened
the eye. Earth and rust,
we carried that tack
in the cavern of our thoughts,
it lay on our palates like salt.
There was nothing to do,
the burden of waiting
heavier than silence.
Once I thought the ocean,
its waves, its film
of sand on the forehead,
would break the plane
of having nothing to give –
where there was an end
there must be a returning.
Instead there was a tang
of seaweed in caves,
dank as a dripping of walls.
The change when it came
could barely be seen,
a thread, a discharge of purity
weak like water in blood
or a promise in age.
Hearing that music now,
fresh, with no worm in my brain,
finally just as I am
I can rejoice in its sparseness,
each lyric on the page
a column, a single clean limb,
each song a spiral wound
round a beautiful emptiness
with the cleanness of water
full of its own hidden light,
teeming with a million unseen lives
and I know this is how
a note is meant to be,
complete, wrung, and belonging.
(for Charles, Numi and Aphra)
Half past three, a prisoner of insomnia,
that cold wakefulness descending on the dark,
my thoughts are moving parallel, like blips
on a hospital screen; my mind is back
in Donegal, on a beach whose sand
is as varied as a city,
under a sky in whose swelling light
a fulmar loops and dances before plunging,
so tiny in the distance, so hypnotic.
In this here and now, this waking still,
every promise is cancelled and renewed
like a bird returning empty to the sky.
POEM FOR A CHRISTENING
In this place of hush and broken
silence, where the air brushes
cold tiles and all is space,
the warmth in your arms makes you
the centre, not just of here
but everywhere; among the smell
of old incense and long-dead feasts,
you step away from water, down
that single step you fretted on
going up. You know the world paused
when your child’s drowsy breathing
shuddered; how like an apple
in your palm you cradled her
to dab her forehead dry; and how
she slept. May she be baptised
by every waking light, the future
touch her lightly as that trickle.
For now, no matter that hopes
everywhere are falling like leaves;
you have been strong in the wind,
have hoped and found yourself.
You walk out into an air
heady with promise, a world
made greater by its helplessness.
Still the night fits come,
an intermittent pain, a sort
of sweating dry, a putting out
of trash daylight locked away.
But even in my dreams
I can imagine morning,
dogs in a mist rejoicing
at the smell of cold,
and light peeling the mountain from its cloud.
Speakers have been taken down,
cables rolled, the floor empty
and unswept, air thick with absence.
An undertow snakes; the street
moving in, a draft through a far door,
eel-like between pockets of pressure.
No one speaks. Muscles are stretched
to the music of fatigue – too long
a standing still as something flew
out, was given, taken to a hundred
homes while a cold house waits
beyond slip roads and slippages.
And still among it all, a small
child’s wonder at that first clash of notes,
a discord calling to be put right.
A derelict hotel,
roads falling slowly apart
eaten at the margins; peeling paint,
rain rusting down a cinema poster,
an apparition on a gable wall.
Morning. Crows wheel as I face the country
clutching songs that should have died
when old props were set alight.
Twenty-seven years ago
we boiled raw whiskey, drank it in the wings
from sugared mugs. In tune,
a score of dreams ran through our supple fingers,
played like light on painted canvas.
This morning is the death of backdrops.
Another country waits
as if you could walk straight through it
into what possessed your growing mind
those distant fallen years,
back in thought to where a childish
ignorance confounds by being true.
A voice calls,
rooted in a place no journey reaches,
like a woodland bird that sings a hundred years
in the span of being lost,
where a man wanders out the other side
purged of the fear of death
at the cost of wonder, all that happened seen
as the blur between two passing trains.
Old houses fall
into a state of newness. Other faces
peer from windows. I wish them growing luck,
the kind I had unknowing, that still pricks
like stars in winter. Let it light their way
across this square when only the crows remain,
riding on the turn of day.
The voice of a crazed child
has been following me all day,
keen as fresh air on a raw wound.
I passed the dull stream where frogs will spawn
and looked down at the town for the first time
white under a sky sharp
with the fragility of glass.
Yet the banging of his head against air
out-pierced the wind; the sky
suddenly broke into
a thousand blanks.
Such fears, such dreams
in his rocking frame!
Everything is beyond the power
of words, even my fretting over
a word not heard; nothing but the icy
clearness of day,
its being, its being gone; we, left behind.
Passing the quarry at dusk
- hard to imagine how it gleamed
once in a distance I barely remember –
my mind is assailed by ghosts: candles
snuffed out in an empty church,
something hovering; the silence of prayers,
night-birds on the wing.
I recall a man having died
- not here – his bed of gravel, his arteries
becoming one with stone, bleeding life
into the stone life of sea-creatures;
my mind animated by stone, by non-beings,
soon to be nothing itself, to free
all it encases in its shell.
Abandoned by water,
lake stones that stubbed our toes
lie small and shrunk on the shore,
the colour of old skin.
I remember their gold
darkening as the shelf dipped
to where a spring shocked
and warned off children and the timid,
where going further was a stepping
into air, and how in panic
feet searched like claws
for the comfort of their strangeness,
their roundness slimed with weed.
Now they lie, warmed for the first time
since the last Ice Age.
In one spot, puddles, a gouging out.
A field away, a half-wall.
NOTHING IS LOST
(for Enda Whyte)
Lost again in this business of forgetting
I recall old people walking,
their firm steps, as if by rote
like your mother, straight-backed, clear-eyed,
doing the loop, returning to a house cold
to the touch of memory, the hearth gone,
the air warmed by foreign pipes,
her need suddenly a child’s, immediate, pure, incomprehensible
to those she reared, her rings so many shiny toys.
I imagine the ghost weight of your arms reaching out
to break a fall that hasn’t happened
and the long, one-sided leave-taking that shadows
ours to come; and a sense of forced readiness,
a tremor in the mind like the breaking
of language as it drifts further away
from its core. I craved silence once,
now it seems inevitable as night,
something whirrs like moth-wings in my brain,
the panic of release becoming worse
the more deadweight the burden;
then I remember that ship I saw
merging with the distance, passengers’ pale faces
shrunk beyond the fact of their still existing.
Perhaps we all sail into that vast calm
in the end; nothing is lost
because we never owned it in the first place; either side, sleep,
at the edge of sleep, a spark.
How your old man loved his machines!
Often I’d see him at night
bent double like a weaver at his loom,
wrestling the dark like Lear or Canute.
He knew he’d be mastered by what he destroyed;
I could imagine mice sniffing after he’d gone
then sheltering in the warmth he’d left behind.
In the end there was something strangely benign
in all that violence, lump-hammer and blade,
dead metal beaten and polished to life.
The wind blows today from the mountain,
out of the rain it feeds.
No one cares to tell how it came here,
we carry lightly our lack of mystery;
I remember the day you tried to run away:
at the other end of the world now
you have grown more transparent than your father.
We have so many words, so few stories;
though the music we made has worn well,
it was never really ours, was it,
in the end were we any different
from your father, cutting and swapping
or digging the same hole again and again
in the hope of finding something new?
I know you claimed to have done just that
though you never gave it a name,
it must have been no more than putting back
what you’d disturbed. So few have managed it;
I think of those metal frames lying discarded,
lyric sheets crumpled on an unswept floor.
Tomorrow his cars will be taken out,
smelling of grease and heavy leather,
to drive behind floats and green-bearded kids
reared on the fast-food truth of distraction.
You’ll be listening to a foreign station,
my other self, as you did when a boy
huddled under the blankets, the old songs
dying downstairs. Far from the flat swill
of what we’re handing on, stay whole, rooted
in the mirror of what you lost.
A WAX CLOCK
The black ribbon
telling me I might be going in
for the last time. A house bereft without music;
even its silence sang
when I knocked as a boy,
a consecrated hush –
set aside, as the Bible has it;
and now, with tea and biscuits, the piano echoing elsewhere
like a bird obeying an instinct that outwears time,
the low hum of conversation is measured in phrases,
their rise and fall
layered, bar on bar.
A white wax candle burns;
here I heard
pure wax burns in strict
time; the first clock. My music lesson ticked
as I learned more than music:
how it fits. And
how it fitted here,
the clock of knowledge,
love where the hands join.
its ripples spreading still.
The last square of the sunk garden
is moss now, the frail maze
of its low hedges has been breached
like a sea-wall, and its gravel
is the underworld of myth
and lost mosaics that never belonged:
where were the steps that should have led
to boats; where the orchard path, the vista?
And where the mind: someone looking up
to an overhanging view, a future
where street noise would recede
into the mere present, and a new zodiac
take root in an image of silence.
Adrift at the edge of Europe,
dark moss on their feet,
they fell asleep to dreams
of beeves and blackbirds, dark woods
and narrow waters cleaving the heart.
Morning came with a fierce sky rocking,
stiff neck, throat dry,
the old unanswered question newly asked,
wine of the Fianna turned to water.
Then the boat faced, like a salmon, for France.
And I think sometimes of Bobbio
especially on days like these,
coming across an old schoolbook
and reading, in spite of myself,
with a child’s eye, smelling chalk,
dreaming among worn sleeves of golden apples;
there was a perfection
in the library of St. Gall,
the glass-lit carvings on Columban’s tomb,
in the lives which promised, which we’d never match.
Lake waters close over the last stone.
I straighten, a man who should know better
but the crowds are elsewhere, in formal gardens
or picnicking on the lawn. an old boat,
a smooth path; no one has been here in months
and the place is, reed for reed, as I remember;
only the sky louring westerly and the sun
higher and hung with that pallor which comes before a storm
chills the hour like a sudden spit of hail in summer.
You forget how a lake reflects its depth in the slate
of an angry sky; it gathers like a bruise
and we all have bruises enough for sure, more than enough,
our limbs, the stiffness of an old man’s
in that Bible story no one recalls for sure.
Back now, through the long meadow, its thick grasses untouched by machines,
to the comfort of portrait and landscape, the steady hand.
Golfers in the distance move silently between ponds
fringed with dwarf rhododendrons, the poor man’s Augusta,
and further along is an arbutus, native here
if it hasn’t died back, like much else
you notice when walking alone for the first time.
The cathedral I never visited is small now, almost hunched,
the house where we stayed lost among others,
and I’m in that familiar quandary, a stranger yet not quite,
a feeling of recognition without entitlement, stepping into self-contained places
built to outlast, my presence no more than an echoing footstep.
But isn’t that why we travel – to be alone,
and why the houses that receive us have a high window
looking onto flowers we know we’ll never pick?
And why gardens have a peculiar beauty in winter,
their bleak fingers a promise of their coming back to life, suddenly,
when the mind is exhausted from trying to imagine it.
Night falls slowly, the moon rises behind a hill.
The far south. A place my childish mind conjured up
while I sat in bare halls or the back
of my father’s van as he made insurance calls -
Munster, ever warm, stream-stones gleaming at midday,
mountains greening from blue as long light made its way overhead;
above all, fables; here we had only the passing rumour
our hills no obstacles for giants’ feet
no uplands drew and held the sun all day.
And on Christmasses I traced the dotted routes of Aegean liners,
freighters in the tropics: the fag-end of an era
that trapped me in it as it guttered out.
Now all is being rendered, picture, word and song
and stories thread through each other like a mesh
where brightness is trapped sometimes, a net lifted to the air
to let the sun shake free in diamond drops.
AN OLD SUN
Coming away from the house, my aunt bent over her flowers,
I look round and try to imagine here under flood,
that placid sullen grey like an unmoving animal,
and her, trapped and restless, watching an October night come down
from and into dark, lit for the instant
of impact, as if a cloud had shattered.
My mind’s eye skims a surface
four foot deep in parts, level with the second step, she said
and somehow what I’d never seen has been banished.
How a memory not mine can smooth out lawns, enrich mould, give
to my sight what was wanting five days or more in everything I’d endeavoured!
Summer was here, but my mind had been anchored
to a tic of disappointment on opening drapes at first light.
She, with an armful of dried leaves, straightens like an old sun coming up.
The fields have split into green
of every hue, twenty at the last count
from riverbank to vague horizon and between,
and though the body wrestles with its remembered cold
shivering by instinct at the prospect of a cloud
winter has finally leached away,
the year is drawn to its full height
and I feel that sense of surprise at the inevitable
that always attends budding or birth
or mild air in open rooms.
And you, who shared the bite
of too many sullen dawns,
bring summer across a sea
that has waited too long for the call
of small shy birds as they make land,
bringing with them long light and the tiny spark
of instinct that suddenly flares
as you turn for an old home and an infant’s warmth.
A FAR COUNTRY
The sun has gone down over a far country.
Here the antirrhinums are budding; a needle-thin slit
foretells a burst of colour a month late
and it feels as if I’ve gained a month.
The wind has dropped,
the yard a sun-trap;
what is there to say
but that in looking in I see
a square, rained on, now dry and sweet
with the scent of its emptiness, its parted crowds
and the breath of mid-afternoon
constant as weather, its promise of change;
that face in the mirror
is the one that astonished me
when I looked on it as a boy
and realised I was me and that someone else,
between us a sea of pure depth
no art could plumb,
a gap no touch could close.
A thousand exiles wake from a dream of these streets
where flowers are ranged on wheeled trays outside a bakery
and each boarded shop is a light going out.
Yet dogs still lie in the sun
and each road from the square leads
to open country, the river
where luck and light turn mayflies into
a moving rainbow; and further,
a promise of returning before too late.
On such stepping-stones
are streams crossed
before they disappear in the flood.
Town of our youth, our talk
of leaving; cinema streets at night,
slick with our dreams.
The trees are in perfect repose;
between the burden of blossoms and that
of fruit, they stretch out
and down to earth; a breeze fans
across the valley
but nothing disturbs the long green trail of their limbs.
So are we now,
you and I, our days
weighted by what will come,
rooted in what we thought we’d shaken off,
and around, the strange stillness
of being the centre of movement,
where at last
shade becomes the start of a long fading.
I go through the house opening old doors.
Emptiness brushes past me like fleeing birds,
and that strange melancholy warmth
of a room abandoned in summer
calls to mind a garden closing on itself,
rank and beautiful, smelling of earth.
I think of other long floors,
park railings in Paris,
the random spill
of air from restless leaves at noon,
and before the moment fades
into the next, there is a distant
shock at this, the keeping of a promise
made before I drew breath.
Time is become a stillness within walls.
In the heat of day
old white crockery set out to catch
that light, peculiar as grace, that comes
with luck, for two weeks each year,
has a line of dust the cloth missed;
and the old guitar, once passed round
like songs or good china, warps with each change of season.
Yet the few strings left cause
the walls, the bookcase, to assume a forgotten gloss,
as a room about to be left forever
becomes more than its years, transfigured, imperishable
in the fragility of a moment that is nothing
but its own truth. My fingers run
along a past I never understood
but for my somehow being part of it;
the strongest light with winter either side,
the finest food eaten dressed for a journey.
A river runs under the house.
Sometimes when the stars are out and the last
car has made its way along the rain-slicked road,
I imagine the dead souls moving noiselessly
about their business: in a great, old city
such as I’ve dreamt or read. Their eyes are fixed
not on the Pole star, but Venus, mild, modest.
Even the dead cannot look too far above the horizon.
And sometimes, on attic stairs, I smell
food that was cooked before I was born.
These are the ghosts that hover, a detritus
for the psychic archaeologist: I find it
a strange comfort that the drudgery of cooking
should outlive the hubris of the man of the house;
that we live and walk continually with the unseen,
the weeds we think we’ve killed off, for which
we are at worst a minor inconvenience;
or imagine a walk at dusk, past hundreds of birds
suddenly silent, roosting within reach,
beyond our power to touch.
And I think, more often now, of the buildings
you’d planned; there was always the sense
of radiating from a centre, a curvature of wires
like nerves; support was all, and from it, breadth and light.
They were cities of the air, and we both knew it;
the best kind, the kind we carried
from a cinema out into the little night.
You never got the chance to impose your thought
upon material. I suspect deep down, you balked
at destruction, the sweeping away of what an age cherished;
I know the sight of rubble appalled you
as did the churning up of hedges – that picture
of the trenches, remember, before and after?
But it never left you that in the spring
of nineteen-nineteen, birds began to sing
in the shattered trees.